After nearly a week here in Buenos Aires, I am beginning to feel much more comfortable with the city and my Spanish, as well as feeling more optimistic about beginning my trip here. Naturally, I was uncertain about how the project was going to work leading up to my arrival here, and even for the first couple of days, but things seem to be falling in place about as good as they could. One of the principal reasons for this optimism is the help I'm getting from an organization called Road2Argentina. R2A arranges immersion programs in Buenos Aires - "Whether you want to learn Spanish, volunteer in Argentina, participate in an international internship, complete a semester in Buenos Aires, take a TEFL course or teach ESL" they arrange the details. They also offer short courses for those interested in tango, yoga, photography, wine tasting (which I haven't done, but Argentina is world renowned for their wines), cooking and theater. Basically, whatever you fancy, they can help you make it happen. For those seeking a structured experience abroad, R2A offers an authentic yet comfortable option. They also have a residence house (called the Road House), which is where I'm staying. I love the feel of it - as they say here "muy buena onda" - because there are students here from all over the U.S. and a few from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. Not only do you get educated about the Argentine culture, but you get to hear the perspectives of other people from all over.
I was put in contact with R2A through an alum of UNC Wilmington (my alma mater) who worked for them after graduation. Thanks Stevi! The director of R2A, Sebastián (Sebas) Cadenas, and I just had a meeting with a local organization called Responde. I am especially excited to work with them because they deal with community development in the towns bordering Buenos Aires that are on the verge of disappearing. Many of these towns, that were once thriving, no longer receive train service because not enough people were using the train to merit continuing service, and they don't have ample opportunities to convince young people to stay, such as universities in which to study or jobs to provide a sufficient standard of living. Therefore, the youth leave for big commercial centers and the economies of these towns essentially stagnate and fall apart. I would imagine that this is what has happened (and will continue to happen) in towns in the U.S. where automobile factories are closing. Responde works to rejuvenate these areas and create opportunities through social and economic developmental projects. Responde works with small towns all over Argentina near big cities such as Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Córdoba.
My education was in international business, but my main interest lies in economic development and micro credit enterprises. Responde seeks to address the plight of these towns with a full range of solutions including microcredit and other forms of economic development, investment in human capital (i.e. training courses for the people, libraries, access to the internet, etc...), facilitating the use of local resources in a sustainable way, and providing volunteers to help run these programs. It is this kind of grassroots, holistic approach to community development that is needed to ensure that the development is sustainable and in the best interest of the people of the region. Their volunteer program is in its early stages of development, so I think it would be awesome to be a sort of trailblazer. We'll see if this works out.
Sebas also set up two other opportunities for next week here in Buenos Aires. His help has been invaluable, and the hospitality that R2A as a whole has shown in just the last three days has made a world of difference here at the beginning of the adventure. As I said before, things are working out about as well as they could. I've done some work in the office for them, and in return they are helping set up some of these opportunities in Argentina. I also get to stay at the Road House with WiFi access, comfortable accommodations, and the good vibe (again, la buena onda) of the residence house. Below are a few pictures of working in the office.